Monday, June 21, 2010

The Ugly Audience

For as long as I can remember, I've been reading music reviews in Memphis' various newspapers. Perhaps it's time for someone to review the audience. I pick and choose my concerts carefully ever since I realized that people don't know how to act in public anymore. I stopped going to Tunica when a Santana concert turned into a drunken frat party and some button-downed buzz-cut sloshed a beer down my back. I no longer go to Mud Island concerts for the same reason. I passed up tickets for Steely Dan because the show was on Mud Island. Afterwards, a friend told me tales of shouting drunks, screaming their conversations over the band's music, and wanting to fight when asked to keep it down. Where we once went to concerts to get high and listen to the music, now it's to get drunk and party. You can do that to the stereo. For me to attend a show these days, the artist has to be unique and I need a reserved seat and an unobstructed view of the stage.

When I bought tickets to see Nancy Wilson with Arturo Sandoval, I expected an older, more sophisticated crowd to attend. I imagined that the rarely seen Ms. Wilson would surely draw a more musically knowledgeable audience that showed up to appreciate the two jazz legends. Not a chance. The event quickly descended into another Memphis embarrassment, complete with heckling, crowd misconduct, and admonishments from the promoter. Ms. Wilson was booked for a similar engagement two years ago but had to cancel because of family concerns. The promoter was forced to refund a near sell-out show, and in the fickle concert business, this performance drew only a half-filled house. Yet still the people came late. I mean, thirty and forty minutes into the concert, ushers with flashlights were still making rows of people stand to accommodate the tardy arrivals who seemed oblivious to their distractions. Maybe some of the attendees thought they were going to see one of those guitar-playing sisters in the band, Heart. At some point, "fashionably late" becomes unreasonably rude. After all, this was Nancy Wilson at the Cannon Center, not Meat Loaf at the Coliseum.

The opening act was world-class Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. The Grammy-winning artist and his quartet had played four polished jazz instrumentals when some boorish lout yelled, "We want Nancy." Sandoval replied, "I want her too, and she'll be here soon," but after the next song, the shouts rang out again. The now aggravated Sandoval said, "We're contracted to play here for a certain period of time," before his words were drowned out by applause from the supportive crowd. An uneasiness fell over the room as the flustered musician continued, "I've never had anybody shout out at me like this before. I hope this won't be our special memory of Memphis." Voices of protest and encouragement and a smattering of applause erupted in the darkness. The Latin jazz virtuoso added, "In fifty years, no one has ever shouted at me like this." I wanted to sink down in my seat and cover my head while the injured Sandoval played a blistering trumpet solo, seemingly to spite his detractors, and then stalked off stage, pausing only momentarily to acknowledge the standing crowd.

After intermission, the concert promoter and head of Cultural Arts For Everyone (CAFE), Rebecca Edwards, interrupted her welcoming remarks and the announcement of the non-profit organization's tenth anniversary to assist some patrons in locating their seats. A passionate, one woman company, Ms. Edwards scolded the crowd that Arturo Sandoval would return to the stage later and was deserving of a standing ovation. When the house lights dimmed and Nancy Wilson appeared in a stunning red dress and a boot on her broken ankle, little white rectangles began to light up all over the hall. It's no longer sufficient to merely attend and enjoy a concert anymore. Now, everyone has to record it on their cell phone and maybe get some hits on YouTube later. Ms. Wilson responded positively to the obligatory audience shouts of, "We love you," until one woman began a personal dialogue with the artist about how much the songs meant to her and her husband. During a dramatic pause at the end of the showcase song, "Guess Who I Saw Today," a man yelled something unintelligible. Before the return of Sandoval and the unspontaneous love-fest that was to come, Melody and I left the building wondering exactly when decorum died.

I've seen recent concerts in Nashville, including Van Morrison at the Ryman Auditorium and Steely Dan at Starwood Amphitheatre, that were memorable. Maybe because Nashville has so many residents that are musicians or friends of musicians, they show a little more reverence for the music. But obnoxious audiences spring up in every part of Memphis, in all types of venues. This is why I haven't performed in a club in five years. I finally grew weary of being background noise for diners and drunks and I thought there must be something else I can do. That's why you're reading me instead of hearing me. We don't need to personally interact this way, and I can read your comments at my leisure. I admire the persistence of Rebecca Edwards in her continuing quest to bring cultural experiences to Memphis. I would have thrown up my hands long ago since I subscribe to the adage, "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." After an endless caravan of yesterday's country stars and geriatric rock bands, perhaps jaded Memphis audiences take live music too much for granted. I believe, however, that an artist with the stature of Nancy Wilson deserves better. And at these ticket prices, so do I.

27 comments:

Joe Spake said...

Right on,Randy. I refuse to pay $50 and up to have those around me talk on their phones, talk loudly to each other, and push past me with their spilling beers.
I always appreciated Jesse Winchester's ploy of lowering the volume until people started listening.

Anonymous said...

Hey you kids. Get out of my yard!

sally said...

Amen, BAH! And let's not forget about the MIM MusicFest, AKA drunkfest. Music? Can't hear it. Drunks? Everywhere. MIM brings in the finest in so many genres for us and for our visitors to enjoy. I've seen grown men defecate in public, women hurling as if it were in vogue to toss their cookies, and have been jostled once too many times to ever wish to return to this venue. Shame on us!

Amanda Reckonwith said...

How embarrassing for Memphis.

Sounds like the drunken frat parties I used to attend (briefly) at UT-K.

I suspect it's the same people -- and their young adult children. They have never grown up, but being well-connected bidness people, they have the money to fork out for these shows.

Their idea of looking cool is showing up at the "right" place and being drunk and loud and rude. Pitiful.

Rikki said...

Meatloaf at the Coliseum would deserve respect, too.

We've pretty much given up concerts. Why pay high prices and put up with the squalor when you can watch concerts on hi-def TV with better "seats" than you could ever enjoy in real life.

Father Farken said...

Dear Randy! What a trmendous editorial, however, please have patience with Rowdy Memphis. We only get out for Wrestling, Music Concerts Pig Roasts & Church or Synagogue. Elvis didn't help either.

At the age of nine I went with my family to see E perform @ the Ellis Auditorium. The audience was in such a frenzy that a girl twice my age making outrageous chimp sounds jumped on her arm rest & rode it like a motor cycle through the whole show...me brother CB whispers to me.."Don't mind her. She thinks it's hump-day!" & that was at least a year before Elvis ever advised us.."If you can't find a partner use a wooden chair!"

Oh I can tell ya stories & its not just Memphis or concerts. Right in the middle of my sermon, in me former church in Newark, a man dressed in jeans & a zazzle tee shirt & smelling of wine, walks in front of the pulpit & starts combing his hair with a pic while pissing all over himself. The whole church went into shock. I stopped the sermon & I ran down to hug his neck & said to to the congregation, "I have just preached to you how our Lord changed water into wine ...now our Lord sent this precious man to show us how easy it is to change wine into urine. Perhaps we invest our lives in to too many things that we just piss away! The Peace of the Lord! Father Farken

Anonymous said...

When I saw your title and topic, I had to read this e-mail. First, you must realize where you are, Memphis TN. The same Memphis TN., that's 35 years behind every other city. The people that attend these concerts have no knowledge of concert etiquette. If you were in New York, it doesn't have to be New York, it could be New Orleans, St. Louis, Atlanta, I'm naming these cities, because 35 years ago, these cities including Memphis made up the quad cities to go and party on the weekend, with Memphis being the most popular. Every city mentioned among the 4 has risen and surpassed Memphis, even New Orleans with it's problems are slowly bouncing back. Memphis hasn't moved they are the same complacent stagnated city 35 years ago. They haven't grown at all, it's the same black & white slave mentality among both races that's running rampart. I use to perform in Memphis, I moved away and haven't looked back and when I do talk to musician friends of mine there, it's the same B.S.
My last performance there was at an upscale venue, I mean really upscale, in downtown Memphis, I was singing on stage, trying to sing over these two obnoxious women at the bar, the people in the audience at the tables had enough, I stopped in the middle of my performance and asked them to leave, The owner supported me, I refuse to try and sing over loud noise with people trying to carry a conversation by screaming, laughing and talking loud, drowning out the vocalist. People applauded, I didn't want to embarrass them, people had paid money to come and enjoy themselves for the evening. If you were in New York and entered a club or restaurant where there was live music, Jazz, they would have a sign at the door, no talking, when the music starts or you will be eascorted out. Memphis need to develop this same mindset and image when it come to concerts such as Nancy Wilson and others. They are just not use to the best things in life, they are still enjoying the peanuts, forget about the peanut factory, we just want the peanuts.

davethedog said...

If Nancy Wilson with Arturo Sandoval had come to me with this problem, I would give them the same advise that Willy, the manager of the Star Club gave to the Beatles. "Macht Schau", I know that Nancy is old, but I'm sure she can get down and do the "dirty dog" to get the audience out of it's funk.

And Randy, I remember when you had to play a few gigs behind chicken wire and I don't remember you complaining about it. I thought you liked the local flavor. It's like Hyman Roth told Michael Corleone, "This is the business, we have CHOSEN"

Boogie Chillen.

davethedog

Bill said...

Randy,
Another good one! I saw 'Alternative Routes' several weeks ago at the Overton Park shell. It rained and many people left before the concert began. Those who stayed were spared the rowdies and got a treat from 4 guys who traveled in from Connecticut. When it looked like it might rain again, they had to cover all the equipment and the lead singer came down off the stage, formed a circle and played 3 more songs on his acoustic guitar. I made sure I bought his CD's and 3 shirts in appreciation for his efforts. This kind of event is almost magical when it happens--a dedicated musician playing to a polite and thankful crowd. You would have loved it.

Chris said...

What I tried but could not publish by way of response was the tale that in 1981 Leontyne Price sang "Daughter of the Regiment" at Ellis Auditorium with the MET touring company. From a seat near mine a drunken doyenne of the Cotton Carnival bellowed, "Hey, Leontyne! It's me! Mah-garet!" Then she turned to her fellows and exclaimed, "Her people worked for mah daddy for ye-uhs and ye-uhs!"
That was my last visit to Ellis Auditorium.

Tom said...

randy, i know what you mean...a great example of the way things should be at a concert is the way so many of the shell concerts were in the late 60's early 70's...i would go to shows there and not only have a great music experience but also feel an actual vibe of one-ness or at least communality of purpose with the other participants(even complete strangers)....very sad that things are at the point you describe...

Anonymous said...

Memphis can never be rehabilitated. It is one huge turd that is spiralling downward into the abyss on many different levels. You have two choices...stay and endure it, or move away. I moved away and never looked back. Thanks for reminding me of the squalor that I left behind. There is no chance of me being the dog that returns to his vomit.

Anonymous said...

Alcohol reduces people to the level of cavemen. Marijuana is so innocuous and so much more of a civilized recreational drug. It is a shame that so much hysteria and misinformation overshadows this relatively harmless herb. If the current administration can't find a way to legalize pot, it probably will never happen. On the other hand, it is so easy to grow in a closet or basement. There needs to be a massive campaign to encourage as many people as possible to grow their own in order to overwhelm the feds. If the barbarians that you wrote about were stoned there would probably be much less offensive behavior. But the case may be that our culture has coarsened to the point that nothing will assuage the barbarity. American culture may devolve to the point that it becomes one huge urban gang slouching its way to Gomorrah.

Anonymous said...

How fortuitous. I am an old, rabid psychedelic rocker who has recently acquired a taste for smooth jazz. There are not that many of us, so I was feeling like an odd wad. Knowing that you are a jazz fan too makes me feel more normal. Now I can come out of the closet.

Jake the Rake said...

god this is so sickening to read. How can memphis promote itself as a music center and be so full of boors and clods? For an artist to have to admonish and audience like that is unthinkable. NO OTHER CITY can match memphis for shame and embarasment. memphis is a JOKE to all who pass thru here at that level. It is a city of "What Once Was" and will never produce anything of worth again.

A. said...

I, too, have encountered the rude audiences - but not just in Memphis. Saw R.E.M. in Atlanta in 2008 - they BOOED Micheal Stipe when he stopped to give his usual spiel about politics. BOOED! And yelled obscenities at him - something to the effect of "Shut up you fag and sing! We don't want no N***ER for our president!" The same ilk then proceeded to cause a horrific and potentially deadly crush at the shuttle bus stop - knowing there were toddlers in the crowd. I honestly thought I might die there. *shudder*

I could relate equally appalling tales of graduations ruined by air horns and ridiculous antics, a recent retirement speech interrupted by a cell phone - 5 times! (no - not the honoree's!)

So - it's not simply Memphis - all of America has lost its sense of decorum. Don't know when it happened - but to quote Billy Bragg - "sometime in the 80s when the good and the great gave way to the greedy and the mean."

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous Re:McChrystal Stay on subject, please.
This incident is an embarrassment. Like the writer, I'd have slumped down in my seat and waited for a chance to make a run for it. To think that one can go to a nice show in Memphis without encountering hooligans is beyond wishful thinking. Sorry it turned out that way.

johnny hayles said...

excellent editorial...thank you.

Anonymous said...

I too believe that the problem of crude behavior is not just with Memphis. Memphis has a considerable down side, but it shares the barbarity problem with every other large city coast to coast. I agree with the respondant who said something about the coarsening of American culture. One solution would be to move to a small, rural town. Generally speaking, the people there have not been infected with many of the social-cultural problems with which urban people are infected. Aside from that, the only way to innoculate yourself from barbarians in the cities would be to stay at home. At least you can control your environment there. But, in Memphis home invasions are on the rise, so you had better arm yourself just in case. America is imploding on many different fronts. Good luck to the young. America was so normal till the 60's. What happened?

Sireen said...

My grandma ma, Mama Beleeva, never missed a gospel concert @ the lovely Christopher Ellis Auditorium
in downtown Memphis even if she & all her precious family had to sit in the highest balcony... known by the Memphis Caucasians as the Crow's Nest! My Mama tells of the time she took the whole family to hear The Blackwood Brothers sing unto the Lord. They had won first prize on The Awful Godfrey show but 2 weeks later 2 members were killed in a plane crash so cousin Cecil & baritone JD Sumner came to their rescue. When my Grandma Ma heard JD Sumner sing "Precious Lord" she broke out into Divine praise....while shouting a multitude of THANK YOU JESUS's in a voice that could be heard @ the Dog Races....needless to say this grew into beating off Security with her purse. My mama was arrested for picking up a security guard over her head & dashing him off the balcony on to the first floor front seats. She was bailed out by Management of Memphis Wrestling.... four years later my Mama, The Black Pantheress, was the Lady Mid South Champion. As the Bible sez "All things happen for the good for those who love the Lord!" Thank You Jesus! Yours truly! SIREEN

Anonymous said...

It's not just about this incident. We can compare the misbehavior at this event to other major cities and granted you'll find fools everywhere, but this is about a city and a culture stuck in the twentieth century in so many ways. It's terribly, terribly sad and an embarassment to those of who call this city home.

BOZOMA said...

People of Memphis. I hear your cry for help. That's why I have chosen you as our national pilot project for a new socialized America! As of July 4th I will employ all Memphians, young & old, regardless of sex or sexual orientation to take part in the creation of a New America by taking part in the transferring of all Gulf spill sludge into the famous Wolf River. We will also build an infrastructure that will go from VooDoo Village to Hert Village & other places that resonate the deep,rich culture of this historic city! We will also draw from Memphis themes such as Music & Pork & uh...Pork & Music! That's why I have called on Mr. Haspel to design the New America via Memphis Zazzle T-shirt that all Memphians will be required to wear! Thank you for your time & may God Bless America!

Anonymous said...

To BOZOMA,

Please don't put the gulf water into the wolf river as I live only 2 blocks away from it, though it may help get rid of the mosquitoes. Memphians seem to just behave that way when they hear the word "concert". Perhaps they shouldn't see alcohol at these events, and if someone tries to enter, and they obviously inebriated, should be refused entry. I think it's a terrible show for Memphis to put on for the performers, but there is probably no way to stop it short of making people pass a breathalyzer test in order to enter. Just please don't junk up the Wolf River. Out in East Memphis, it's very nice.

Anonymous said...

That last post should have been not "sell" alcohol, not see alcohol, though some people only have to see alcohol to get drunk. Sorry for the typo and poor proofreading.

Anonymous said...

Some acts may not schedule Memphis for performances if this uncouth behavior continues. Especially the ones who are not that hard up for money. Why set yourself up for abuse and indignity from a bunch of boors?

Anonymous said...

I just attended Tom Petty in St Louis and for the most part people around us behaved but there were some folks having too much fun. I think this behavior is reflective of our culture in general. It's not just Memphis. Our nation has been on a downward slide since the 60's. You expect good manners?

Anonymous said...

With our nations drug of choice - alcohol - fully embraced, advocated and capitalized on, what really should we expect?

Nix the booze, especially that which is sold at venues, and you'll have a much better experience.